Just relax

Just relax

Scripted tips for lowering the anger and anxiety levels of stressed out foster kids

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 01/16/2014

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Dear Patti,
I’m a foster mother with two wonderful foster children, Demi, 12, and Kyle, 14. They’re not related, but my husband and I are very pleased at how well they get along. Demi is shy and often anxious, but Kyle seems to understand how scared she is and has empathy and is protective of her. 

I’ve always rationalized that my behavior is largely her fault because she has a personality disorder and is impossible to cope with. I’m a gentle, successful, intelligent physician and in no way do I ever lose my temper with anyone else except with my wife. My father was an abuser, but he was an ignorant, uneducated drunk and would lash out at everyone, especially my mom, myself and my siblings. 

Both have already been through so much in their young lives. Kyle was in two foster placements before he came to live with us and sometimes he’ll blow up from the emotions he’s holding inside. Demi’s birth mother repeatedly tells her she’s going to try to get her back and then disappears. Both kids attend weekly counseling and have been sent to communications workshops. Demi goes to family counseling with her mother bi-monthly, Kyle’s been to anger management classes and both of them have had plenty of lectures from various parental and authority figures. I believe they have enough psychotherapy for right now, but I’m worried about Demi’s anxiety and Kyle’s temper.

Do you have any suggestions on how I could help them without being overly parental, like teaching them relaxation skills?

— Melanie

Dear Melanie,
Here are two relaxation exercises, one for Demi and one for Kyle. Record these relaxation interchanges using your voice, then give them CD’s so they can listen at bedtime or whenever they choose. They’ll then be able to be comforted, connected and mentored by your voice without any lecturing. 

For Demi’s anxiety I suggest the classic Progressive Muscle Relaxation Imagery. As well as a relaxation technique, it’s beneficial as a mindful body-focusing method used for anxiety.

Script: Get comfortable, lie down on your bed, stretch out, close your eyes, take a moment to allow your body to let go and feel the surface of the bed supporting you. Let go … feel safe. Now, pay attention to your breathing. Breathe in and out, slowly and deeply. Take a slow breath in, hold it for a few seconds, then exhale slowly and completely. As you continue to breathe deeply, focus on your body and completely relax. Just let everything go. First relax your feet and toes and then your legs — your calves, thighs — front and back and then relax your pelvis, your stomach, your whole torso, lower and upper back. Notice how you feel as you relax. As you continue to breathe easily and deeply, bring awareness to your arms and hands and relax your shoulders and neck. Lastly, put your attention on your face and head. Now that all the tension has left your body, notice how you feel. Imagine your three favorite colors combined with gold and silver to make a fluid, wonderfully healing energy that slowly comes up through your feet and into the rest of your body. Let your relaxed body sink and fall deeper and deeper into the bed, totally stress-free. When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes. 
For Kyle, try Dr. Steven Stosny’s HEALS model. Stosny believes that developing self-love and compassion for self and others is much more effective than self-control models for anger management. This exercise should be listened to when Kyle first realizes he’s angry about something. Repeating this practice many times is key.

Script: Lie or sit down comfortably. First, close your eyes or gaze at the floor and visualize the word “heals” in your mind. See the word in any color or design you choose. Just focus on the word “heals.” If you’re angry at a particular person, see that person in your mind’s eye and visualize the word “heals” on his or her face. Now, see the letter “H” in your mind. See the letter in any creative way you choose. “H” stands for “heals.” You’re now choosing to heal yourself. Next, see the letter “E.” “E” stands for the word “explains” which helps you understand the deepest core hurt underneath your anger. You’re angry because you’ve been hurt. Understand and pay attention to your hurt. See the letter “A.” The letter “A” is for “accessing” your genuine value. Remember to always value yourself, even when you’re angry. Now, see the letter “L” for the “love” and compassion you feel for yourself. See the letter “S.” “S” is for “solving” the problem, which you can do with self-love, encouragement, understanding and compassion. As you now experience these feelings, you will feel your body relax.
I hope this is helpful. It’s wonderful to hear from someone as caring and dedicated as you. Thank you for the work you do. 

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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